Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The WOW Factor

When I received my MLS in 1989, computers were just beginning to creep into the library program. During my first year as a librarian we learned how to mail merge on the Apple IIE to help organize our overdues. We were in the process of weeding our collection and preparing the shelflist for retrospective conversion. Our students know little of a world without computers, cell phones, DVDs and other electronic devices. It’s been a daunting task to compete with the virtual world outside the library but I’ve found the WOW Factor.

I see my middle school students in English classes every-other-week for circulation. English teachers give me roughly 15-20 minutes a visit for a library related presentation and the remainder of the time is spent on checking out books. During their first visit I showed a prezi with some family pictures, a few library expectations and an embedded video. The students still talk about the video and have asked that I put a link on our Destiny homepage. This was the first prezi the students had ever seen and they were impressed with the new technology. On their 2nd visit I presented the students with another prezi of the top 10 all time favorite books. Again, they loved the anticipation for the next click.

I’ve tried to add something new to each and every visit and I began my presentation today with, “I want to teach you 3 things today.” After showing them how to log into Destiny, reserve a book, renew a book, write a book review and find book trailers in the book catalog I heard a young man say, “I learned something today,” after he renewed his own library books. The WOW Factor doesn’t have to be a full length DVD but can be as simple as showing them how to be a better student. Whether it's beginning the lesson with a voki, showing an animoto video from a school event or looping book trailers for viewing, take time out to demonstrate some of these new and exciting ideas and watch the effect it has on your students. They too like to learn.

Image from Creative Commons

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Teen Read Week Reading Relay

Sometimes the best library ideas are simple and come from the most unexpected places. I’ve not worked in Middle School since 1993 and I’m having a great time. After spending the last 15 years as a high school librarian (don’t get me wrong, I LOVED high school) I’ve found working with 7th and 8th graders quite refreshing. With Teen Read Week approaching I knew we needed to celebrate the event with a school-wide project. I thought of a dear friend’s program that I worked with in Spartanburg, SC and Relay for Life and merged the two into what I called Teen Read Week Reading Relay.

Our homeroom was the perfect venue to bring students outside and read. Basically here’s how it worked.

1. Homeroom teachers organized students into teams or 5-6 students each about 1 week prior to the event. Students were allowed to come up with team names, make banners or posters and name a team captain during their daily 30 minute homeroom period. We even had one homeroom that made pink team shirts!

2. I approached the music department (since this year’s logo was Books with Beat @ your library) and made arrangements to have the drumline play on the field during the event. I also made arrangements to have music playing after the drumline stopped.

3. I also contact the PE department to get access of the track and football field.

4. I collaborated with the English teachers from the beginning, knowing the more collaboration the better the event.

5. 8th graders were called out to the track and field (with books in hand) and directed to their location on the field.

6. The first team members walked the track while all other members relaxed to the music and read.

7. After one lap on the track, member #1 tagged team member #2 and the Relay continued with the 2nd member walking while the rest of the team read. This process continued until all team member walked the track.

8. The Relay continued for 30 minutes with students reading, walking, relaxing smiling and loving the experience.

9. The entire event was repeated for our 7th graders.

I must admit that I was nervous and skeptical of the Relay’s success since I’ve never taken on the task of bringing 400 students outside to walk and read in a controlled event. It was a worth while moment when my principal turned to me and said, “They are getting exercise and reading too.” As with any new project there were some bumps (some teachers had not read the explanations of the Relay). Teachers quickly went into their modify and adjust mode and it all worked out.

I had a great time along with many students. Some teachers seemed to have been out of their comfort zone but overall I feel everyone had a enjoyable day. Students now stop by the library to give me hugs, handmade thank you notes and enthusiastically check out books. Being new to a school, new to a district and new to a state can sometimes feel lonely but I believe I have put the library on the school map in this small Texas middle school.

Graphics from video is the Teen Read Week logo from the American Library Association

Friday, October 1, 2010

Library CREW

Never underestimate the talent and intelligence of your students. My middle school students came up with the name of their new library club - The Library CREW. CREW stands for Credible, Reliable, Energetic, Workers! So far I'm quite proud of this CREW.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Birth of Another Student Library Club!

I worked in one of the largest high schools in South Carolina for 14 years before my husband announced that we were moving to the Dallas area. As a reluctant mover, I first thought of my life, the students and teachers that I would leave behind. The Library Club had grown from a few students to a large dynamic group that LOVED to spend time in the library. Hugs were given to all, tears were shed by many and some students asked to be my friend on facebook. I quickly accepted a position in Dallas at an incredible private school and found yet another group of students congregating around me and the library. Because of distance and commuting time I took my 3rd library position in three years. After a month I again am convinced that this small school of 400 students is in need of a student library club. I like the name Library Advisory Crew and I call them The Crew for short. These students want to belong to a group and help. I have my hands full juggling the eagerness of many middle school students wanting to help during lunch or study hall but what a great opportunity for me to work on leadership skills, volunteerism and research skills. We have the birth of yet another student library club!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Meet and Greet the Librarian

As the new librarian in a small Middle School, I felt the need to invite all 4 English teachers and their classes into the library for a meet and greet session. I did call it Library Orientation but I really wanted to introduce myself and have some fun with the 400 students in our school. After spending the last 14 years as the single librarian in a high school of about 2,500 students I found this so refreshing and exhilarating. I was used to 90 minute blocks so planning a 30 minute quick presentation highlighting my introduction, some library policies and showing the Oconee Middle School Teacher Tube video sounded perfect. I started with a short prezi with some family pictures and a quick background of my professional progression. I than showed the Gotta Keep Reading video and was overwhelmed with the students’ positive reactions. They asked great questions, loved the pictures of our family dogs and wanted to make a school video by the end of the period. One young man came up to me when the bell rang and said, “You are a really good teacher.” I was thrilled to know that after 31 years I can still connect with the students. I cannot imagine being in any other profession than working with our young adults and getting them enthused about reading. Life is good.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Have you thought about using Wordle as an assessment tool in your classroom? Wordle is a free web word cloud that can be used as a means of summarizing the content of an essay, a presentation, or any other type of student assignment. For example, the Wordle to the left is from this blog. This provides a very useful and interesting means of letting people know of the content of this blog. Notice the words library, science, fiction, books, and favorite are emphasized in this Wordle. Uses for Wordle in the classroom are unlimited and can include:
Capturing key points
Making revisions
Vocabulary introduction

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fill the Bucket of Others

When I first moved to South Carolina, I had the privilege of working in Spartanburg County School District #3 with Ann T. White. I knew from the moment I met Ann that she was both an unusual and very special educator. I loved to hear her share her stories and was not surprised when she began her own business as an inspirational speaker upon her retirement from education. I never tired of her speech on the Twelve Commandments for People Who Worked With People. As the school year approaches I encourage many librarians to try her commandment #11 “Fill the Bucket of Others”. Step out of the library as the students and teachers enter the building for a new year and fill their buckets. Unfortunately Ann passed from cancer a few years back but her legacy lives on in many of us who practice her philosophies of being a good person and educator.

Picture and more information on Ann T. White can be found at

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tips and Tricks in the Library for a New School Year

It’s a fresh new year and what better way than to start off with some positive suggestions. Take some time to plan and think through the year rather than blindly taking one day at a time.

1. Collaboration: The success of the library program depends on collaboration. Expand your existing collaborative relationships and concentrate on new collaborative projects.

2. Communication: Think of a variety of ways to communicate and promote the library. Design an online monthly newsletter, use the school’s news program, jazz up the displays and get creative with the communication process.

3. Evaluate last year and make a list of both successes and tribulations. Make modifications to programs that enhance the school’s community, drop the the unsuccessful projects and add at least one new and innovative program to the library calendar.

4. Sustainability: How can you eliminate waste in your library program? Think about developing an online calendar or schedule, keep your website up-to-date with pertinent information, and introduce your programming to the virtual world and take advantage of open source software.

5. PLN: Weed out your Professional Learning Network deleting stagnate areas and possibly adding new helpful resources.

6. Professional Development: Look at diverse PD opportunities. Take advantage of free webinars, virtual cafes and other options available.

Sit back, relax and have fun in the new school year!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Faculty Book Club

When I began my new Upper School library position in Dallas, Texas last year I knew I had to develop relationships with the US staff. The US was relatively young and had NO previous library program so I knew it would be a challenge to quickly bond with this small cohesive group. After trying many techniques I fell into a situation where someone suggested a faculty book club. I was ready to try anything and thus planned our first meeting. The room was full and everyone looked to me for the club’s criteria. As the facilitator of the US library, I decided it was our club and solicited suggestions and before the end of the meeting we had a plan in place. Simple as the plan was, it worked wonderfully and here is how we proceeded.

1. Everyone in the US was invited to particiapte in the book club and make suggestions of books to discuss. Genres to consider would include fiction, nonfiction, biography, poetry, short stories, and young adult material.

2. A smaller group randomly picked titles once all the suggestions were submitted.

3. Monthly meetings were scheduled around school activities either during lunch or after school. During our last lunch meeting I coordinated ordering food from a local deli.

4. The monthly discussion groups were lead by the person making the book suggestion and no one lead more than one group.

5. The book club schedule was posted on the library’s website, mentioned in the monthly library newsletters, and reminders were emailed to all faculty as meeting dates approached.

6. I obtained a copy of all the books for the US library collection.

7. As the dates approached I coordinated refreshments with the group discussion leader.

8. Thank you notes went out to those who volunteered to undertake a discussion group.

9. The actual meetings were relaxed, fun and mentally exhilarating.

Key components for success included a variety of book suggestions to entice many, a fun and relaxing atmosphere, promotion and publication and sincere gratitude for those who volunteered.

I hope to continue this tradition in my new school library position for this coming year. I was pleasantly surprised at the overwhelming success of the faculty book club and hope others find the time to do the same.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Few Summer Tips for a School Librarian

The new school year is just around the corner and it’s time to start thinking about getting back into your regular work routine. Listed are some tips for a school librarian as your vacation comes to a conclusion.

1. Start browsing through your reader, think about your blog, add a few good tweets to twitter, update your Shelfari account and at least make sure you have the correct logins to all other accounts.

2. Clean your house, cook and freeze some meals, mow the yard and work in the garden. This way when you come home from school exhausted those first few days, you won’t be concerned with domestic chores.

3. Have a ME day. Make an appointment at the spa, get your nails done, play a round of golf or shop til you drop. Just take some TLC time for yourself before the school year starts.

4. Get rid of last year’s baggage. Last year is behind you so get over it and proceed on with the new school year.

5. Return from your trips at least 2-3 days before the school year starts. This will give you a few days to relax and get ready for the adventures of a new year.

6. Pull out your positive attitude and smile. If you have put the positive vibes and attitude away for the summer get it out and practice smiling and enjoying life a few weeks before school starts.

7. Start an exercise program. Take a walk, ride a bike, jog, join a water aerobics class or get involved with an activity that gets your heart rate up. Begin with a simple plan and incorporate it into your daily schedule.

8. Start getting up at your regular work time at least a week before school starts. This way getting back into your routine won’t be such a shock to your body.

9. Start something new. Look into starting a new home project such as a home recycling program, a family blog, plant an herbal garden or any other innovative venture. This might inspire you to begin new and exciting undertakings at school in the coming year.

10. If you hate your job, dislike the students, are annoyed by the faculty and despise your administration do everyone a favor and resign!

11. Remember a happy healthy librarian is essential for a positive productive school library program.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Library Orientation

I have hesitated to voice my opinion on library orientation for years and was so relived to find through my Google Reader that others are of the same opinion. My co-librarian and I spent almost 3 solid weeks (each semester due to block scheduling) on library orientation with the freshmen class every year. We prepared the famous PowerPoint presentation and spent roughly 25 minutes narrating the policies and procedures of our very large library program. The rest of the block was spent on the grand tour and time was allotted to check out books. I ask myself why? When we moved the school to a new location and I lost my co-librarian I knew I could not spend that time on orientation and serve the school properly. So what did I do? As each class came into research, checkout books, use the computers, etc. I would briefly highlight any policies I felt were necessary for that visit. The student handbook included the library policies and I kept a copy close to the circulation desk in case it was ever needed. In the seven years that I spent as the sole librarian in a high school of about 2400 students, I can only remember a handful of times that I had a student borrow it to reacquaint themselves with our rules. I say stop library orientation in isolation. Use each and every opportunity to implement professional development with either students or faculty members in the library than step back and watch them proceed. Facilitate the process in guiding your school community in using the skills you have taught as life-longer learners.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Faculty Book Club

At the beginning of this challenging school year I knew I needed to cultivate relationships with my new library position and what better approach than to start a faculty book club. I learned so much about the outstanding staff at my private school where I took the position as the first Upper School librarian. In our final discussion we talked about Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez over lunch. This collection of twelve stories was published in 1992 but several of the tales were originally written in the seventies and eighties. Marquez who spent many years in exile from his native land of Columbia, wrote about dislocation and life in a foreign land. I thank all of those who read the books and attended the discussion meetings. I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to this school year.
Book cover from Follett

Monday, May 17, 2010

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

When Clary witnesses a murder and the body quickly disappears before her eyes she realizes things are very bizarre. Her world is turned up-side-down as she is drawn into a strange new world of Shadowhunters, demons, warriors and mundanes. Clary’s mother is no where to be found and Clary is almost killed by a monster. Why would demons be so interested in Clary and her mother? As Jace, a Shadowhunter, pulls Clary into this new dimension the world of good and evil is not so clear. I’m not a huge fantasy fan but this incredibly fast paced gripping story held my attention from beginning to end. It would be a great read-a-loud in middle school or an excellent recommendation for reluctant readers.

City of Ashes: The Mortal Instruments: Book Two, Cassandra Clare
City of Glass: The Mortal Instruments: Book Three, Cassandra Clare
Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside, Holly Black
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer
Darkhenge, Catherine Fisher
The Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling

Book cover from Follett

Friday, May 14, 2010

In the Name of God by Paula Jolin

Our faculty book club met and discussed the YA novel In the Name of God by Paula Jolin. The group agreed the novel helped some understand issues of modern Middle Eastern cultures. Jolin became intrigued with the Middle East after spending time living in Cairo, Syria and Tunisia. Many important topics of life in the Middle East and Islamic fundamentalism are brought to light with the story of Nadia and her family. Although life in the Middle East might seem different, the underlying tone of the book disclosed emotions and feelings are common across cultures.
Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
A Stone in My Hand by Cathryn Clinton
19 Varieties of Gazelle by Naomi Shihab Nye
Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Book cover from Follett

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

I found myself involved with a research project as I read this novel. Did Cleopatra really have a daughter? Not only did she have a daughter but she had three sons. I found the novel a refreshing history lesson on the turbulent times when the Romans conquered Egypt. Caesar, Cleopatra, and Marc Antony are all dead and the surviving children are on their way to live in Rome. The author’s descriptions brought you into the heart of what life was like in ancient Roman times. This would make a great curriculum connection read with students in middle school or high school ancient history classes. Also those interested in historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy this novel.
Bookcover from Follett

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lady Macbeth's Daughter by Lisa Klein

Albia has grown up thinking she was the daughter of Geillis living a rather peaceful life living in the Wychelm Wood and the moors. It’s when Macbeth seeks out Albia’s sisters to foresee his further that she begins to piece together her past and true identity. As the only child and daughter of Macbeth, Albia was sent off to be killed when she was an infant. She is saved by the kind act of Rhuven, Lady Macbeth’s servant.

The story intertwines the tales from the play Macbeth with the crimes of her real parents, rivals for the throne, bloodshed, and more. When Albia realizes she too was blessed with the second sight she must make difficult decisions whether to ignore the terrible future or change it.

One does not have to be a Shakespeare fan in order to enjoy this book, but who knows it might inspire some to read more of the Shakespeare’s tales.

Book cover from Follett

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

Pulitzer Prize winner and bestseller author Tracy Kidder spoke in Dallas recently inspiring me to read his latest novel Strength in What Remains. Kidder takes us on a heroic journey of retelling the remarkable story of how Deo survived civil war and genocide. Deo arrived in America from Burundi in search of a new life and begins to meet strangers who are willing to take a chance and change his life. The story follows Deo’s difficult journey from homelessness to medical school. As Deo devotes his life to healing he also searches for meaning and forgiveness of his turbulent life in Burundi. This is a wonderful uplifting and inspiring story of how one person can overcome tremendous obstacles in life and also how ordinary people can help in the process. This is a good read for anyone looking for a heartening true story.

Book cover from Follet

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject in the aftermath of World War II. Juliet is a famous columnist in London and is well known for her wartime humor. She receives a letter from a resident of Guernsey that begins a wonderful correspondence into a world of reflections of a town under German occupation during the war. The islanders were very eager to share their stories with Juliet. When a group of locals were caught by the Germans meeting after curfew they invented a book club as an alibi for feasting on a forbidden pig. The eccentric group of members named the club the “The Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” and thus began meetings of an ecliptic group. Juliet is enthralled with the stories and visits the island to meet the members in person. As Juliet learns more about the lives of its members the adventure becomes a life changing experience for her. This is a creatively written book that I highly recommend.

Book cover from Follett

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

Author Tracy Kidder takes us on an inspiring journey of the renowned doctor Paul Farmer. Dr. Farmer is devoted to the many causes including working with the poor in Haiti. He is enthralled with working to improve humanity through his knowledge of the modern medical profession. He had an eccentric upbringing only to find his calling in medical school. He has devoted his life to save lives and has engaged others to follow his path. Many of his personal relationships are disclosed including his short marriage to a Haitian anthropologist where a daughter is born. The book tells the full story of how one person can make a difference. I found the book very inspiring and would highly recommend it for those wanting to read an uplifting true story.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim

This wonderfully written novel on this year’s Texas Library Association Lariat list was an enjoyable read. The story follows Najin Han, the privileged daughter of a calligrapher in early 20th century Korea. She is smart and headstrong at an early age and encouraged by her loving mother in a time where women had little rights. Her father was set in traditional ways and seemed very harsh at times. When Najin finds herself in an arranged married her mother sends her to Soul as a companion to a young princess. When the king is assassinated the centuries-old culture comes to an end. As she continues her education she unexpectedly finds love. She is immediately separated from her husband when he moves to American and her passport is denied. A decade passes and the distance between them takes a toll on their marriage. The story spans 30 years of Najin’s life and tells the tale of how oppression changed her forever.

Book cover from Follett

Thursday, May 6, 2010

All We Know of Heaven by Jacquelyn Mitchard

This compelling novel about two best friends, Bridget and Maureen, tells an unimaginable story of tragedy. In a brief moment on an icy road in December their lives were changed forever. After a collision with a truck one girl is dead and the other is battered beyond recognition. The family, friends and town morn and bury a beautiful young lady and pray for the recovery of another who is still in a coma. But, a terrible mistake has been made and the doctors discover the girl in the coma is really the girl they thought they had buried.

The novel is based on a true story and is filled with hope, love, healing, guilt and an incredible tale by Jacquelyn Mitchard. I could see this used in a student book discussion group with many topics to explore. This is one touching book that I highly recommend you read.
Mistaken Identity by Don Van Ryn
Wrecked by E. R. Frank
Bringing up the Bones by Lara M. Zeises
After the Wreck, I Picked Myself up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away by Joyce Carol Oates
Book cover from Follett

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Charles and Emma : The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

As the story begins Charles, who is afraid that marriage would take him away from his scientific work, after much thought decides to marry his first cousin Emma Wedgwood. Through letters and quotes the tale of the wonderful life and marriage of the Darwin’s in Victorian England emerges. In Emma, Charles found true happiness with a friend, a lover, caretaker, editor, and nurturing mother to his children.

Emma and Charles were blessed with the birth of ten children throughout their marriage but they were also plagued with tragedies and problems. Emma, who was a devout religious person, worried about Charles’s doubts about God. Seven of their ten children survived but Charles was torn with the death of three of his children. Charles was a dedicated scientist with doubts but not an atheist. Emma worried about her dear Charles in the afterlife.

This captivating biography tells us how dedicated Charles was to his family as well as his love of science. Reference to the letters gives the reader a glimpse into the private life of a very famous scientist. This is an excllent cross curriclar read for History, English or Science classes. The novel is filled with life in the Victoria era, Science through the eyes of Charles Darwin, love and family life among many other topics. Those readers interested in narrative nonfiction will enjoy this book immensely.

Photo and video editing at

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The novel begins with Enzo, the beloved family dog, discussing his impending death. The entire story is narrated by Enzo with the reader seeing the family in the eyes of this philosophical family dog. His master is Denny Swift, a mechanic who dreams of becoming a famous racer. Enzo and Denny navigate through life’s tribulations including a marriage, a birth, a death, and false accusations. Enzo faithfully comforts the family through these difficulties while intertwining stories of Denny’s love of racing into the novel. Dog fans and racing fans will love this compelling story.

I read this novel while on a trip to Orlando this weekend. The minute I finished the story, I insisted my sister read the book before we parted our ways. We both enjoyed and loved the story.

Book cover from Follett

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Birth of Another Blog

The birth of The Unpretentious Librarian blog came about after listening to The Virtual CafĂ© webinar with Buffy Hamilton, Carolyn Foots, Barb Jansen and Christina Bentheim. I realized that I had started two fantastic school library blogs but as I left these positions I also left the blogs for others to maintain. I can still hear the words from the webinar, “Blog about something you are passionate about.” After spending the past 30 years as both a teacher and a librarian, I realized that I am ready to reveal my passion on a larger scale. I am a down-to-earth librarian with plenty of diverse experiences and loads of ideas. Again, thanks to my PLN for showing me another platform to continue to grow professionally with so many amazing friends.
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